By Bram Janssen, AP
IRBIL, Iraq–Iraqi Kurdish forces are deliberately destroying Arab villages under their control, according to an Amnesty International report released on Wednesday. The human rights group said these actions could amount to war crimes.
Kurdish forces have bulldozed, blown up and burned down thousands of homes in Arab villages recaptured from the Islamic State group, the report said.
“The forced displacement of civilians and the deliberate destruction of homes and property without military justification may amount to war crimes,” said Donatella Rovera of Amnesty International in a statement.
“We are not talking about collateral damage happening in the heat of battle, rather this is deliberate destruction,” Rovera told The Associated Press.
She called the treatment of Arab Iraqis detailed in the report “a form of collective punishment on families and communities who have themselves not committed any crimes.” Rovera, who carried out the field research for the report, said the group also found that Arab civilians were barred from returning to their villages by Kurdish forces.
The Kurdish Regional Government, or KRG, in Iraq has said civilians are being prevented from returning to their homes for their own safety, citing the dangers of explosive booby-traps and homemade bombs that IS often leaves behind when it retreats.
The Amnesty report investigated 13 villages in the provinces of Ninevah, Kirkuk and Diyala, and included satellite imagery that Amnesty International said corroborated their claims.
In the fight against IS, the United States has closely supported Iraq’s Kurdish forces also known as the peshmerga with airstrikes, intelligence sharing and training programs.
The peshmerga carried out the attacks in retaliation for alleged support for IS within Arab communities, the Amnesty report said. The villages detailed were previously under Arab rule, but came under Kurdish control when Peshmerga fighters pushed back IS last year.
A spokesman for Iraq’s Kurdistan region responded to the Amnesty report by saying that Kurdish forces “implement the standards” and principals of human rights and international law.
But Zebari acknowledged incidents of what he described as “fighting” between Kurdish forces and the residents of Arab villages.